Oakland Nature Preserve (ONP) founder and past president of the board, Jim Thomas died Sunday, September 19, 2021, quietly at his home in Winter Garden after a long debilitating illness. His wife of 60 years, Margaret (Ms. Peg), was with him.
A fifth generation Floridian, Jim was born on November 10, 1934. He grew up filling is pockets full of critters as he explored the outdoors, which he loved so much. This love of nature followed Jim into his adult life, and he continued his education in biology and environmental studies receiving his B.S. from Florida State University and MS from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He also attended Yale University, University of Florida, North Carolina State University, University of Puerto Rico and Rutgers University for additional graduate studies.
He settled with his family into the West Orange Community and showed us that many positive things are possible, and quality of life can be enriched through education and perseverance. He opened Biosphere Consulting, which focused on lakefront and wetland restoration and was a provider of retail and wholesale native plants. He worked with lakefront property owners and large mitigation projects to help enhance and maintain healthy water quality of local wetlands, lakes, and waterways.
Throughout his life he immersed himself into many battles on behalf of the environment always promoting science to lead the way for sound growth and ecological restoration. He served as President or as an influential board member with many groups around Central Florida including; Friends of Lake Apopka (FOLA), Friends of the Wekiva River, Orange Audubon, Florida Native Plant Society, Florida Wildlife Federation, Reedy Creek Pollution Control Board, the Nehrling Society, and ONP.
Jim always held the philosophy that education is the key to environmental problems that have political solutions and in 1991, founded FOLA as an advocacy group dedicated to the restoration and long-term management of the lake. Dubbed “The King of the Gray Hairs,” Jim spearheaded policy actions and funding efforts to bring the lake back to its past glory.
He played a major role in forming ONP, which was incorporated in 1997, with a group of FOLA board members and like-minded Oakland residents whose mission was to preserve, restore, and educate about the environment and tell the history and restoration story about Lake Apopka. He always said that ONP grew the mission, but always at the core was the need to educate.
As an environmentalist, ecologist, teacher, and private business owner, Jim taught individuals and groups for years regarding environmental-friendly landscapes using native non-invasive trees and plants. His passion for the environment and wildlife was contagious and teaching was a second nature to him.
Jim received numerous awards and recognition for his work on behalf of the environment but it was not important to him to receive credit for taking a stand, it was more important to take the stand and make a difference.
Jim is survived by his wife, Margaret W. Thomas; son: James W. Thomas (Angela); Daughter: Ellen T. McNeil (James Armstrong); grandchildren, Amadeus and Jimmy; brother Donald Thomas; and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his brother, George.
In lieu of flowers Jim’s family has asked that they make a donation to the Oakland Nature Preserve.
A Memorial Service will be announced.